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Posted: 3/29/2011

Emergency medical technicians are not doctors and may not enjoy the same degree of vocational recognition, but they are the responders first to arrive at an accident and, in many cases, the ones responsible for saving lives.  While EMT’s don’t have the knowledge or equipment an emergency room physician possesses, most responders do benefit from the life-saving technology of one vital tool: an automated external defibrillator. In fact, since automatic external defibrillators, or AED’s, first made defibrillation easily portable, stories of emergency responders saving the lives of those suffering cardiac arrest have continued to increase.    

The San Juan Island Emergency Medical Services (EMS) is one regional response team that can attest to the efficacy of AED’s in saving cardiac arrest victims.  They placed 36 AED units throughout and beyond their medical district in clubs, medical and healthcare centers, office buildings, pool and playground areas, fire stations, country clubs, harbors, marinas, and churches.  To date, the widespread machine placement has created a significant amount of positive data and resulted in numerous cardiac survivors who sing the praises of the program.

On October 5, 2001 a 76 Portland Oregon man suffered a heart attack at the Port of Friday harbor while enjoying a tour of Washington.  Someone seeing the elderly man collapse called 911 and the Emergency Medical Services were paged.  It was undersheriff Jon Zerby who heard the call and the small bag holding an AED as he raced to the scene. He and another office, Eric Gardiner, arrived at the port and found the man had not pulse, so they hooked up the AED it administered two shocks.  The tourist’s heartbeat was restored and he was airlifted to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Bellingham in stable condition.

A short while later, on February 18, 2003, a healthy 57 year old man collapsed behind the mall in Friday Harbor.  Two EMT’s, Bette Weiss and Sgt. Scott Brennan, were in the sheriff’s office a block away when someone called 911. A local man began CPR on the victim and when Brennan and Weiss arrived, they wasted no time opening the AED and applying the electrode pads.  The defibrillator indicated a shock was needed a Weiss pushed the button. One shock was all it took and the victim’s heart responded and began beating again with a normal rhythm. 

A few months later on May 11, 2004 Fire Chief Bob Low and firefighter Cheyenne Mauldin participated in a quarterly department training session on the use of automatic external defibrillators. Two days later, the men were sipping coffee with two friends when they heard someone collapse in the café.  Mauldin and Low immediately sprinted to their vehicles, grabbing the department’s AED and a medical bag.   The victim had no pulse and showed no signs of life. Low attached the AED to the man and Mauldin used CPR to try and establish an airway.  The AED indicated a shock was needed and the victim was revived and airlifted to a nearby hospital, lucky the pair were eating at the same café that morning.  The lanes manager, Bruce Nelson, said the bowling alley will have their own AED soon, “we already told the bookkeeper to order one,” he said.

Interestingly, while the city has done a fairly good job of being proactive in the distribution and placement of AED’s, the sheriff’s office has only two units – one that came through a grant and another that was donated as a memorial for a departed loved one.  Zerby, who  saw a man saved by an AED, urged people to wanting to make donations, to donate an AED.

Despite the number of people saved in the small community and the AED’s already in place, even San Juan Island could use additional units.  It would seem almost unthinkable that police precincts, fire departments, and emergency medical response team wouldn’t have adequate AED’s available, but for many communities, that is the case.  Some emergency medical services may have less AED’s then necessary to supply all crew during multiple emergencies.

To assist the purchase of defibrillators, many medical supply companies and online AED retailers such as www.aed-shop.com, offer discounted EMT packages that provide affordable defibrillators to emergency services.

For most American communities, the AED count and cardiac save statistics aren’t nearly as good as those of San Juan Island, but by ensuring that emergency medical teams are AED prepared, the number of lives lost to cardiac arrest could dwindle dramatically.  If your community is need of additional equipment, hold fundraising activities, obtain a grant, or seek donors to get the money you need to save lives.

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